The Pack

By Luke Ohlson

Our uncle guns the boat to top speed the minute we’re past the last buoy. Despite the wind his cigarette stays glued to his bottom lip. He doesn’t need to tap out the ashes because they fly off in the wind. He shouts over the motor at us,

“Those life vests buckled?”

“Yeah”

Gabrielle is disinterested and, as the younger sister, I try to follow suit. We wear B.U.M. Equipment sweatshirts and neon framed sunglasses. Mine are pink. Hers are green. Each of us has our hair pulled into severely tight top ponytails. We are wearing one pieces under the sweatshirts. When our uncle kills the motor and tells us to jump in I squint hard to see through to the bottom of the lake, certain I’ll see the missing girl’s bloated body.

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Jane Greeley went missing on June 15th. The photo that runs on the news is of her standing in her lifeguard uniform in a staff picture taken at the beginning of the summer. The radio and TV news list her height and weight and the small particulars of her life, straining to use the present tense when talking about her. Jane Greeley is a high school junior. Jane Greeley lives in a small town outside Portsmouth. Jane Greeley is hoping to attend either the University of New Hampshire or St. Michael’s. Lake Winnipesaukee has 288 miles of shoreline. Is 200 feet deep in the deepest places. Has 258 islands. The New Hampshire State Police search all of it. They search it again. They are still searching when my sister and I ride up here with our parents. We unpack into mothball laden dressers and play board games from the seventies with dog eared instructions and water stained cardboard covers. Everything is wood grain, VCRs and kitchen moulding. My sister sighs heavily at everything, something she’s learned from her high school classmates. I echo her. I try to wear the same clothes, down to the colored scrunchies. But when I echo the sigh it is forced, half hearted. Because I like it here.

I like the People magazines from the last renters. Demi tells Bruce enough. Nicole and Tom in San Sebastian. Chelsea Clinton on campus.

I like finding my parents wine drunk in the kitchen, necking to Linda Ronstadt.

I like the pine trees becoming a mysterious dark at night, the throb heat pulse of cricket song. I like the neon lights at Weirs Arcade. I like the motorcycles.

xxx

You can hear them across the lake. Cruising around the lake from one parking lot to another.

My parents hate the bikers, especially Dad. Calls them dickheads when he thinks my sister and I are out of earshot. Dickheads who don’t know what a muffler is.

I can’t get enough. When we’re out to eat I’ll sneak out to the parking lot to see if there are any out there. Look at the neon reflecting on the forks and fenders. Burly tattooed men smoking cigarettes and sneaking swigs from dark flasks hidden in leather jackets. The patches with the club name.

The Mongols. The Breed. The Pissed of Bastards of Bloomington.

I rush back to my family, red faced, head wild with schemes.

My sister and I will start a gang. An all girl gang. We’ll roar down the roads around the lake, smoke Marlboro hard pack reds like Uncle Paul, and we will take no shit from anyone.

xxx

On the night Aunt Debbie arrives she and my mother are talking and laughing so loud they wake me up. I come downstairs rubbing my eyes. They are stumble through a funny dance routine to some old motown song, white wine threatening the rims of their glasses.

“What are you doing?”

My aunt whirls to face me,

“Rita! Get over here”

I hesitate.

“C’mon. You can’t be as bad as us.”

I shuffle over.

“C’mon straighten up.”

My aunt pushes in my lower back. Pulls at my shoulders.

“Ok now right, now left”

And so on. We do the same steps to similar motown numbers that come one after the other. The Supremes. The Ronettes. Martha and the Vandellas.

When my Aunt’s CD collection is exhausted Mom falls back into the couch. I slide in next to her.  My aunt strikes a dramatic pose, her wine glass high in the air, cries,

“The Starlettes!”

I look up at her.

“What’s that?”

My mother kisses me on the forehead.

“Oh just our girl group. Your aunts and I. Sometimes we would drag Paul into the mix.”

I try to think of Uncle Paul, the youngest of all of them, forced into a dance routine, my aunts taking turns being Diana Ross, bare feet burning on shag carpet. I get a thrill imagining Uncle Paul about my age with a gold sequin dress, sparkling in light from naked bulbs, lamp shades thrown aside, his glossy lips mouthing the words.

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The next night I wake up to motorcycle engines. My sister’s bed is empty.

I wait a moment for her to come back from the bathroom, give up after a moment. I tiptoe into the carpeted hallway and start down the stairs. By the time I am at the window the headlights are receding. In a moment the lights, my sister, are gone.

xxx

“What’s his name?”

“Fuck off”

I’m interrogating my sister in the back of Dad’s hatchback. We sweat into the cheap powder blue upholstery, speaking below the level of parental detection.

“What’s his name or I tell mom and dad”

“Tell mom and dad and you’ll end up like Jane Greeley at the bottom of the fucking lake”

My mother turns back,

“What are you two talking about back there”

We look out the car windows, silent as the pines slipping past on either side.

After a moment my dad tries, shouts over the wind rushing in the window,

“Aunt Deb thinks you’re quite the dancer Rita. Says you’re a natural.”

I look at his eyes in the rearview mirror. I try to seem uninterested but my flush gives me away.

“Is that something you want to do when school starts up again?”

“Maybe”

I think instead that I should ask for a leather jacket for Christmas. The patch will say “The Starlettes” The symbol will be a shiny white star with blood dripping from each point.

xxx

That night I have a nightmare of Jane Greeley’s skeleton fingers holding me underwater. I gasp for air. I shout awake. I look over at my sister’s bed, see her lying face down on top of the sheets. The crickets throb and I count the motorcycles in their rumbling orbits.

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The flyers of Jane Greeley’s face are, by this point, all around the lake. Curled bangs. Freckles on either side of her nose. She looks like my sister if her face we a bit rounder, less severe. I say this to my sister and she punches me in the arm. I punch her back. She punches me with one knuckle extended in the thigh, trying to give me a charlie horse. It works.

“Good luck dancing now”

She leaves me there on the bed, walks over to the bedroom mirror to put on the lipstick she snuck out of Mom’s purse. I ask,

“Are you going out?”

She turns, hisses,

“Jane Greeeeeeeeeley” and makes a motion of cutting her throat.

xxx

Later that night the state trooper and mom and dad are silent in the kitchen. Aunt Deb and I sit in the living room. Silent. We can hear the trooper speak as softly as he can,

“Listen, usually with a case like this she’s just afraid to come home. Probably went out with one of these local guys, is too scared to even call. But she will.”

My parents don’t say anything. But I know what they’re thinking. The trooper knows too. He calmly starts again,

“And I know everyone’s been thinking about this Jane Greeley case but that’s more than likely an isolated incident. And we still think Jane will turn up. Your daughter’s probably just over with one of these idiot kids and will come back any minute now.”

Mom and Dad don’t say anything.

xxx

Uncle Paul takes me for a drive.

We’re stuck behind a pack of motorcycles. I wish I was one of them. I wish I could go off searching for my sister. All night. The headlights in front of my motorcycle. A rumbling between my legs. Power.

“Anything you want to tell me?”

I look up at him. He senses my panic.

“My guess is you do.”

I look out the window. The moon flickering between the pines. Code for something.

“Rita.”

I break.

“She went out the other night. I didn’t even see who with. Just saw the car leaving”

“What kind of car?”

“I don’t know.”

“What time”

“I don’t know. Late.”

He keeps his eyes straight ahead. Finally he pounds the steering wheel.

“Fuck”

We stop in at an ice cream place by the arcade and he buys me my favorite, Mint Chocolate chip in a waffle cone. We sit on a picnic table and he smokes half a pack of cigarettes, lighting the next with the last, staring out at the lake.

xxx

She calls the following afternoon. When Dad brings her home my mother hugs her, says,

“Thank god. Thank god. Thank god”

My sister pushes her away, walks around the house, down the pathway to the dock, and sits there, her toes dangling above the water.

I tiptoe behind. I hold her hand. She shakes, does not look at me. Does not tell me. Not all summer. It sinks down.

We sit there until the light fades, mosquitoes nipping our sunburned skin. The first motorcycle engines crackle through the hot night.

I dream of power. I dream of leather boots crushing the throats of those who would hurt us. I think of our gang. Our chains. Our switchblades shining in moonlight.


Luke Ohlson is a writer, filmmaker, musician, and activist living in Greenpoint Brooklyn.

You can find his work at lukeohlson.com.

 

Illustrations by Brett Wintle